It is a 100 degree day on our street. I say to Gail ‘let’s walk to El Bronco‘. We go.
We walk down Iowa. A mother and her young daughter coming out of their home smile and greet us. We return the greetings. We each know not the other’s name. But we know we are neighbors. Neighbors walk in their neighborhoods.
Across the street three young men yell greetings to us. We smile and I give thumbs up.
At Cherokee we turn west. Cumulonimbus overhead arriving from the west. Are we going to get wet walking home?
Our usual. A chimichanga for her. For me the two taco lunch special which you can order anytime. Not fancy, but simple goodness. The place quieter than usual. Heat has people down. Not us. We have to eat.
Tonight Gail tells me that she wishes she knew the names of El Bronco staff. Our waitress.
When she comes to collect our bill I ask ‘what is your name?’ She always has a warm smile for us. But now her smile turns beatific, more intensely warm. As if ‘I’ve been waiting for you to find out’. As if we just gave her a gift. Her name is Maylee. I introduce us. ‘Phil and Gail’. That smile is with her as she leaves our table.
During my first taco (steak, onions and cilantro wrapped in two warm corn tortillas drizzled with lime) I happen to look up and notice that Pastor Dave is with the group of men that had entered a few minutes earlier. We catch each others attention, wordlessly exchange waves. After paying our bill we go over and Dave introduces his three guests. The men are visiting from Springfield MO, Denver, and Kansas City. We chat a little. They ask about our Salvation Army work. Pastor Dave asks what Salvation Army people think about Sara Johnson’s Democratic Party committeewoman campaign (enthusiastic). He also asks about our son, John. John introduced us to Pastor Dave a couple years ago. John knows everyone in Benton Park West and everyone knows John.
We leave El Bronco. The sky has grown darker with clouds. We start up California. Thunder.
I say to Gail ‘show me the grapes’. She told me about them a few days ago, grapes that finally have appeared on a vine John put up a few years ago behind the Salvation Army Temple Corps. Rain sprinkles, but I want to see the grapes.
We turn east on Juniata and jog to the left down an alley to a trellis.
Will they survive? When some unknown passerby notices that they are starting to look good …
Across the street Miss Gigi sitting outside at Booth Manor, keeping cool, notices us. We cross the street to talk. We all agree. The grapes look promising. For now Miss Gigi is keeping an eye on them. She will put up a little fence with a sign. She tells us that should be enough to help people respect the grapes. We believe her. Miss Gigi has authority.
The rain starts to fall. Miss Gigi sends us off. We pick up the pace. The wind has too, the air cooling. But before going inside I need to inspect Gail’s flowers. She noticed today that the black-eyed Susans she and Sara planted a few weeks ago are doing well.
Inside, before the heavy rain begins, ends, leaving a quiet St Louis sky.
I tell people that this is the first time in a long time that I have lived in and felt like part of a neighborhood. The experience of walking to a restaurant. Of meeting and visiting with people I know. It makes me feel rich in the Holy Currency of relationship.
I like being a neighbor.